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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Grave of the Fireflies Collector's Edition
Grave of the Fireflies Collector's Edition
Central Park Media // PG // October 8, 2002
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Todd Siechen | posted October 31, 2002 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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I went into this film with the expectation that I would be sobbing by the end due to overwhelming emotional content. One of the things I do as an animator is study character design, acting, empathy, storytelling and delivery. I am certainly not a big fan of Anime in the character sense, but in the pure artistic sense I am often dazzled by the beauty of it. I come from the Warner Bros., Disney, Tex Avery school of animated character appreciation so my tendency is towards a much tighter style of movement and acting to deliver a story and characters that evoke empathy in an audience. Anime typically uses a lot of holds where there is no movement at all, or uses animation based on a change in picture every 3 or 4 frames. To contrast this, Disney animation normally changes the image every 1 or 2 frames. This gives a much more fluid and lively picture in every conceivable way.

This film is the story of 2 Japanese children who are caught up in the aftermath and ongoing aerial bombing of their village during World War 2. Setsuko, the young girl age 4 and her older brother Seita, age 14, who takes care of Setsuko during this time of hardship through their war-torn land and loss of family and loved ones. The fight for survival of the real victims of war - the children and innocent families. It's a simple yet powerful drama where the animated stylization allows the viewer to stay focused on the idea and concept of what is happening so as not to allow too much realism to pollute the message. The details are wonderfully crafted and displayed without rushing anything through. The innocence of childhood is illustrated nicely with many bits and pieces of immersive content. We then transition to the darker side of war and the disastrous effects it has on so many. While the story is heart-wrenching, it's certainly not gruesome or heavy-handed. We are treated to the very thing many other war movies seem to miss, only this time it's the focus and not a shoestring scene among a larger web of storytelling.

While I really enjoyed this film and it's brilliant script and story line, I found myself wanting to feel more for these characters and their situation by way of simple acting and emotive capacity. I am not saying I think it should have been delivered in a live action wrapper, but with a different animation team to bring the characters much more to life than Anime traditionally delivers. Perhaps Brad Bird who directed the exceptional "Iron Giant", or Pixar's team of animation talents. I do love that a risky story such as this was made with animation stylings. This will help put animation higher on peoples respect ladder than has been previously with expectations of kiddie films and Saturday morning television.

This is one of those types of stories that really works best as an animated piece rather than with live action. The stark reality of live action in this story would have been overpowering for the viewer and could be a detriment to delivering the story. I suppose I am a bit biased towards American animation for the fantastic recent films it has shown us. When I view Anime characters I often feel cheated out of the potential for deeper character connection. Roger Ebert calls this "Technically Correct" animation, but I have to disagree with him. Its about good acting vs. flat acting - and animation is no exception. I agree that many scenes in this film do not require such precise animation performance, there are a lot of very emotional and intricate scenes with close-ups of Setsuko and Seita that certainly do require a fine level of acting to deliver the impact that this film should have. Leaving these things up to the audiences imagination certainly has merit, but I think the power of the film could have really hit home with this extra attention to the acting.

I must give special recognition to the artists for their gorgeous work on the scenery, backgrounds and general look of the establishing environments. The DVD is well worth the price for this art alone. It's simply breathtaking and very memorable. The impact it has on the feelings of the film is profound and powerful. I am so thankful that such great care and attention was given to the restoration and transfer of this work onto the DVD format.

VIDEO: 1.85:1 Anamorphic widescreen transfer. The video is surprisingly crisp and well detailed with very rich colors and no noticeable artifacts. The encoding is very tight and this makes for a very well rendered picture. The one complaint I have is the added storyboards are put in as a second angle which puts the symbol on the screen for the entire film that your DVD player uses to indicate the second angle picture option. This should have been handled differently.

AUDIO: Audio is offered as either English or Japanese with English subtitles. The voice acting is different for each language - Tsutomu Tatsumi performs Seita and Ayano Shiraishi performs Setsuko in Japanese, while J. Robert Spencer and Rhoda Chrosite perform the English voices respectively. Since the lip sync for this type of animation is so simple, audio voice tracks are interchangeable without looking strange when the characters speak. The music in the film is really moving with soft melodic tonality that helps bring plenty of emotion to the subject matter.

MENUS: The menu designs are animated and fitting for the movie.

Disc 1: Storyboards for the entire film are offered as the alternate angle track. Trailers - "Revolutionary Girl Utena: The Black Rose Saga", "Now & Then, Here & There", "Legend of Himiko", "The Silk Road", "Pearl Harbor: The View From Japan", plus there is a preview of the Big Apple Anime Fest 2003.

Bonus Disc: Interview with Roger Ebert - Mr. Ebert talks about the War genre a bit and how this film effectively does what other films fail to do. He compares the style of Anime to what would have possibly come from a live action treatment of the same script.
Creative Team Extras - Interview with Director Isao Takahata: The man talks about how the film came to be and the risks involved with its production.
Author Akiyuki Nosaka's biography - text based single paragraph bio.
Director Isao Takahata's Bio - text based single paragraph bio.
Japanese Release Promo - this is a mini-featurette on the production and release of the film with small interviews with the art director, director and writer of the film.
Production Extras - DVNR featurette: technical mini featurette on the DVD production process and Digital Video Noise Reduction.
Art Gallery - still image slide show of many of the shots from the film as well as production paintings, drawings and model sheets.
Locations, Then and Now - A fascinating look at the locations used in the background paintings for the film and what they each look like today.
Bonus Storyboards - 10 additional storyboard segments not included in the full film storyboard.
Japanese and U.S. trailers.
Historical Perspective - A discussion by an American and a Japanese historian on the perspective of the war in 1945, the government attitudes, the portrayal of the war in the film and how it reflects the facts of the times.
DVD-ROM content - Web links, The same Art Gallery, Vocal Cast Credits, Awards, a full film Script, and Production Credits are offered here.
Additional Trailers - "Project A-ko", "Record of Lodoss War", "Harmagedon", "Legend of the Dragon Kings: Under Fire"

Summary: This film is a necessity for any animation collection and highly recommended for its beauty and emotional impact. The only reservation I have is in the flatness of Anime style animation in acting out a characters emotions. Other than this the film succeeds brilliantly on many levels and with such thorough treatment and care given to this DVD I think it's a real winner. I give it a very strong recommendation.
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